|HE SHADE FROM A MASSIVE MOUNTAIN GUM TREE SHIELDS ME FROM the intense Australian summer sun as I scan for trout in the cold, clear waters running by. Six feet through at its fire-scarred base, this titan of the hardwoods has withstood a hundred summers and at least a dozen floods, rising to a height of 80 feet and a still-impressive canopy of leaves. It is the grand anomaly of these woods—a veteran, a survivor—when all around are grim reminders of what used to be.
The massive forest fires that swept the lower ranges of the Kosciuszko National Park in 2003 destroyed hundreds of thousands of alpine ash and mountain gum trees over large regions of the park. Today they stand, stricken and gray, as though the fitting guardians of Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. I will, by conservationists’ estimates, be somewhere in my mid-70s before the saplings now competing for the light beneath those hulks are mature enough to produce seeds for another generation.
But a river runs through that valley of dry bones, and the mountain gum that shelters me has made a history of staying close to the living water. Its roots are literally in the riverbed, drawing up the precious moisture during the past seven years of drought, shielding it when firestorms leaped the hilltops to claim a million forest peers. The fortunate seed that yielded in this towering success—dropped here by wind or bird or wombat—could not have found a better place to grow. Fire, flood, drought, ice, and snow—all are survivable if roots go deep and water is abundant. In this dry and rocky land, maturity depends on being planted by a stream of living water.
I toss a thought upon the flowing surface of the Thredbo River to see if trout will bite, and hear again the wisdom of the psalmist: “They [the righteous ones] are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper” (Ps. 1:3, NRSV).*
So it is I pause to honor the veterans among us (some laughingly call themselves “survivors”) who have seen this movement through its past half century or so. At camp meetings and conferences, at church doors after worship, in private conversations shining with encouragement, the seniors of this Advent cause continue to win my admiration and respect. What some may lack in energy and drive, they more than match in staying power and graciousness, in words that lift and a touch that heals. They’ve learned that time is on the side of the righteous, and that “those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing, to declare that the Lord is upright” (Ps. 92:13-15, NKJV).†
As I press to know the secrets of their spiritual maturity, they speak of simple, daily practices that keep their roots in reach of nourishment. “I read my Bible through each year,” they say, without the gloating one might think could come with that achievement. “I pray for everyone I know—every day,” they tell me. “I fill my mind with hymns and songs,” they smile. “They’ve carried me through many a night and many a trial.” And I believe them, for there is in their words a glad serenity that far outlasts the flame of younger passions.
So let’s be careful how we speak of youth and age in what we say and write and sing. This movement may have been founded by young adults, as we are these days fond of saying, but in God’s providence, most of those young adults grew to full maturity, sheltering new generations with comfort, grace, and learning, still producing fruit to fourscore years and more. We laud them now because they grew, found living water, gave us all a rootedness that’s saved us in so many floods and fires.
This week, salute some senior Adventists you know. Affirm the faithfulness that lasts through seasons and for decades. Enjoy the presence of a steady, rooted life—and thereby trace again your own way back to streams of living water.
*Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright ” 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
†Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright ” 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published February 11, 2010.